Climate mitigation overshadows adaptation in the Congo Basin

“There is a need for a radical change in national climate policies..."

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NAIROBI, Kenya—Spend any time reading about climate change, and you’ll notice that the words “mitigation” and “adaptation” are never far from each other.

Experts routinely extol the dual necessities of forestalling and adjusting to climate change—yet a new study undertaken by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) shows that mitigation is monopolizing the international agenda, even in developing countries that are relatively low emitters of greenhouse gases.

That’s a matter for concern, according to the study’s authors, because adaptation seeks to limit the negative impacts of climate change on societies and ecosystems, which may be particularly vulnerable in developing nations.

The researchers studied climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts in the Congo Basin, examining the progress of projects and initiatives that promote adaptation and those that emphasize mitigation, many of which are related to programs for Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world, covering 227 million hectares, capable of storing an estimated 30 billion metric tons of carbon, and directly supporting the livelihoods of 60 million people by providing fuel, food, medicines and shelter, and acting as a safety net in times of crisis or emergencies.

“People’s vulnerability to climate change in the Basin is the result of many factors such as the high dependence of their livelihoods on climate patterns, low development and poor governance,” said CIFOR senior scientist and study co-author Anne Marie Tiani.

The study identified 94 national programs and activities related to mitigation, (primarily REDD+) in the six countries of the Congo Basin, and just 11 related to adaptation.

While adaptation has been gaining more prominence at the international level, the study noted that in many developing countries, adaptation policies and projects have trouble emerging because of the lack of relevant data on how vulnerable the local people are to climate change.


The authors noted while some developing countries are in the process of putting together strategies to prepare for REDD+ under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, those in the Congo Basin have very limited capacity to do so—and there is even less experience when it comes to adaptation.

The study also found an imbalance between the amounts being invested in the two approaches.

Using data from the Climate Fund Update 2013 and other sources, the authors found that in 2012-2013 (for example), funding available for mitigation in developing countries amounted to USD 39.1 billion, whereas that for adaptation was just USD 3.4 billion.

REDD+ initiatives, activities and projects in the Congo Basin

Adaptation initiatives and projects in the Congo Basin

The authors also found that adaptation and REDD+ seem to be evolving as parallel and separate processes in the Congo Basin, whereas there is a need for them to be closely linked to create synergy.


There are reasons for the poor progress in promotion of adaptation. The authors report that there is a clear lack of research into adaptation solutions. There is also insufficient political support for adaptation and/or a lack of interest among project managers. Adaptation initiatives are often quite diffuse in development approaches and do not benefit from a structured national framework as REDD+ does.

REDD+ initiatives on mitigation tend to dominate climate change policy discourse and projects in the region: directly aiming to reduce carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation, and improving sustainable forest management. And they also work on preparations to ready countries for participation in REDD+, with a relatively high number of initiatives for measuring, reporting and verification activities.

“There is a need for a radical change in national climate policies, strategies and processes in order to increase interaction between adaptation and mitigation,” Tiani said. “One of the priorities is a better quantification of trade-offs between population adaptation and carbon objectives as some REDD+ projects may worsen people’s vulnerability to multi-stressors, including climate change.”

For more information on please contact Anne Marie Tiani at

CIFOR’s research on land tenure forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Food security Climate talks